Asian stocks mixed in holiday-thin trading

HONG KONG (AP) — Most Asian stock markets traded in narrow ranges Thursday as fewer investors participated in the market ahead of the New Year holiday while Japan’s Nikkei index fell on the last trading day of the year due to a firming yen.

“The market will continue to be quiet overall. Turnover will continue to be low,” said Castor Pang, research director at Cinda Securities in Hong Kong.

The Japanese benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average fell 117.10 points, or 1.1 percent, to at 10,226.76. Investors sold export-linked stocks as the yen gained ground against the dollar.

A strong yen hurts Japanese exporters as it cuts the value of their repatriated profits and makes their products less competitive abroad.

Shares in Toyota Motor Corp. fell 0.5 percent to 3,235 yen. Honda Motor Co. lost 0.8 percent to 3,230 yen. Sony Corp. was down 1.4 percent at 2,915 yen on Thursday.

The Japanese stock market will be closed on Friday. It will resume trading on Jan. 4.

Apart from the Nikkei, China’s Shanghai Composite Index was down 0.35 percent to 2,741.76 in the morning session.

Elsewhere, South Korea’s Kospi edged up just 1.81 points to 2,044.58. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was down 0.1 percent at 22,936.04. Benchmarks in Australia, India, Singapore and Taiwan were all marginally higher.

In New York on Wednesday, the Dow Jones Industrial average added 9.84 points, or 0.1 percent, to 11,585.38. The S&P 500 rose 1.27, or 0.1 percent, to 1,259.78. The technology-focused Nasdaq gained 4.05, or nearly 0.2 percent, to 2,666.93.

Across Asia, investors stayed on the sidelines in light trading ahead of the New Year holiday and also in the absence of fresh market leads.

Some investors could worried that Chinese stocks might be dragged down by bank and property shares because of fears of further interest rate increases by Beijing authorities, Pang said.

Officials raised a key interest rate on Saturday, the second such increase in two months, in an attempt to keep a lid on surging inflation. That would hurt property companies because it would cost more for people to borrow money to buy homes. Banks would see their profits cut by lower demand for loans, Pang said.

In currencies, the dollar fell to 81.46 yen in Tokyo on Thursday from 81.63 yen in New York late Wednesday. The euro rose to $1.3232 from $1.3221.

Benchmark crude for February delivery edged up 12 cents to $91.24 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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